At worlds, U.S. ice dancers chase medals they missed at Olympics

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A question nagged at Madison Hubbell as she came home from the PyeongChang Olympics.

How do you let it go and move on?

Hubbell and her ice dance partner, Zachary Donohue, dropped from third after the Olympic short dance to fourth overall, struggling in the free dance. Donohue fell from one knee, putting his hands on the ice late in the program.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took gold and French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron the silver, to no surprise.

The bronze, considered up for grabs among the three U.S. couples, went to siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who also earned bronze in the team event, skating both programs. The Shibutanis lost to Hubbell and Donohue for the first time at nationals in January but were given first pick in the team event because they had better international standing.

So neither Hubbell and Donohue nor two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who tangled skates and fell in their Olympic free dance, made a podium in PyeongChang.

“That was something we really wanted, and I really believe had we skated our best we would have been third,” Hubbell told NBC Sports research last week.

Virtue and Moir and the Shibutanis both withdrew from this week’s world championships, a common move for Olympic medalists at the post-Olympic worlds.

That makes Papadakis and Cizeron clear favorites in Milan. Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates could both also make the podium as they begin paths to the 2022 Olympics.

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“We have moved on,” from finishing ninth at the Olympics, Chock said, “but it’s definitely going to stay with us and we’ll use it as fuel.”

Chock and Bates had the chance to lead the charge into PyeongChang after Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition.

They topped the 2015 World Championships short dance but were passed by Papadakis and Cizeron in the free. In 2016, the Shibutanis overtook them at nationals. In 2017, they dropped to seventh at worlds with Bates erring on twizzles in their free. Now ninth at the Olympics.

Chock and Bates took two weeks off the ice after their free dance (including when Chock was ill after they got home; she is also bothered by loose bone fragments in her ankle that require post-worlds surgery). Messages of support poured in during that time, including a memorable note from a woman who works with Bates’ dad.

“She said my son has cerebral palsy, and I see him fall down and get up all the time. Seeing your son and his partner, the way they got up was a great example,” Bates said.

Hubbell and Donohue shared coaches and Montreal training ice with Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron before the Olympics. They go into worlds remembering advice from the Canadians, who are expected to retire.

“We were really lucky to have Tessa and Scott all year telling us that the month after Olympics trying to get ready for worlds was ‘the worst month of your life,'” Hubbell said. “So we kind of felt prepared for it to be like Armageddon.”

Hubbell and Donohue were also in third place after the short dance at the 2017 World Championships. There, like in PyeongChang, Donohue fell during their free dance, and they finished out of the medals (ninth) with the Shibutanis moving up to bronze.

“I wish the Shibutanis were [in Milan] because last year I gave them my medal,” Donohue said, “and I don’t plan on doing that this year.”

No Virtue and Moir. No Shibutanis. Would it make a medal this week any less prestigious?

“Years from now no one will remember who was there and who wasn’t,” Bates said. “A world medal is a world medal.”

Key Short Dance Start Times (Friday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 9:42 a.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 10:23 a.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 10:30 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 10:37 a.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 10:43 a.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 10:50 a.m.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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